Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Retro Review: Small Soldiers

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, December 13, 2016

Everything else… is just a toy.

What if Steve Jobs made toys?

RecommendationRecommended
DirectorJoe Dante
WritersGavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Movie Rating7
Formats
  • Enhanced Widescreen

I recently watched Small Soldiers again after not seeing it since it came out. I remembered it as being a fun movie about what if toys could do what companies say they can do. But it’s even more brilliant than I remembered it.

The movie starts out as if it’s going to be the same old cliché of global soulless corporation against small, heartland company. The toy company is literally named Heartland Toys and the corporation is literally named Globotech. Of the two toy developers we see, one just wants to make educational games. The movie plays into this cliché in the first scene as the CEO of Globotech sneers at learning and peace. He’s coming across as the worst parts of Bill Gates and those guys in charge of the Crossbow Project at the beginning of Real Genius.

Then the other toy developer shows off a mockup advertisement video for a line of toy soldiers. In the advertisement, the toy soldier punches his way out of the box and starts talking, and the CEO turns to the developer and asks, “can they really do that?”

The developer doesn’t even understand the question at first, but no, he finally answers, the toys cannot punch their way out of their own box. And that’s when Mr. Globotech turns into Steve Jobs1, even to the point of correcting his new employees on some advertising sloganry2. The Globotech CEO goes on a Jobsian rant about all the things advertisers say their products can do but can’t. And wouldn’t it be awesome if toys could do what they do in advertisements.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if toy soldiers could play back?

Hell yes.

That’s what Small Soldiers is about: how completely awesome it would be to have toy soldiers that fight back. Despite all the destruction the toys cause, it’s fun to fight them. Kirsten Dunst has a grim smile on her face as she destroys her Barbie dolls, but it’s the same kind of smile kids have whenever they’re really interacting with their toys. Whenever, in fact, they’re learning from their toys. The main character’s mom has a blast, literally, using her tennis racket to lob bombs back at the toy soldiers as the soldiers converge on their house.

Yes, those toys would be fun.

It helps that the toys were played by some amazing actors. The Commando Elite were voiced by Tommy Lee Jones leading cast members from The Dirty Dozen. The slavery-loving Gorgonites were played by Frank Langella leading cast members from Spinal Tap.

Even in a second viewing I’m still not sure how much of the tacked-on story about peace vs. violence and learning vs. action was meant to be taken seriously. That is, I don’t know if the whole point of it was to make fun of that kind of movie, or if there really was such a subplot in the original draft and it was removed once it became clear how awesome those toys really were.

The writers definitely weren’t stupid enough to think the toys, once made, would be unmade. Minor spoiler, as it’s pretty obvious from the trailers that the toys cause a ton of destruction…

…but at the end of the movie, as the CEO of Globotech steps out of his helicopter and surveys the damage, an entire neighborhood in shambles, one house nearly destroyed and another house completely destroyed, he looks around, deals with some of the damage, and talks to the developers.

“How much are we charging for these things?”

“$79.95.”

“Tell you what, tack a couple of zeros on the end.”

The movie then has him say that these toys will be great in South America, but if that’s all they sell them to, there’s going to be a huge gray market selling them back to people in the United States. And he knows it. There will be lines out the door for $8,000 Chip Hazards that play back.

If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend taking a look at it. It’s like Toy Story in the real world. The Toy Story movies were great movies, and I’m sure kids love having toys from the movies because they’re from the movies.

These toys stand on their own. Or would, if they existed. I put them up there with flying cars and wrist-worn video communicators. We’re going to get them, because we keep imagining them.

  1. Small Soldiers came out in 1998, one year after Steve Jobs returned as CEO of Apple. Although in his case, rather than helicoptering in as in the movie, he more submarined in.

  2. He’s right about that, too. Anything else is just a toy is a great slogan. Everything else is just a toy is an insanely great slogan.

Recommendation: Recommended

DirectorJoe Dante
WritersGavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
ActorsKirsten Dunst, Gregory Smith
Length1 hour, 50 minutes
Spoken languagesEnglish, French, Spanish
SubtitlesEnglish (CC), French, Spanish
Special FeaturesBehind-the-Scenes Footage, Cast Information, Production Notes, Trailer
More links

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